by Ernest Mendozza
Someone once said, “Being a good writer is 3% talent 97% not being distracted by the internet.” Ain’t that the truth. Just while writing this introductory paragraph, I’ve checked my email three times, changed the music twice, and went to see when the next episode of Mr. Robot airs. And that’s not counting my Twitter habit.
When you get distracted constantly and easily, the quality of your writing suffers — that much is obvious. But how do you remain distraction-free when there’s just so much stuff to pay your attention to? Especially when checking your email counts as work, and making connections on Twitter furthers your career, it’s easy to make justifications for blowing off writing for even a minute or two.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: being distracted by Twitter isn’t a problem with social media or short attention spans, or anything else. If there were no Twitter, you’d be going to make a fifth cup of tea instead of figuring out how to finish the draft. Twitter is just what your mind goes to because it’s a quick dopamine fix, and it’s easy to get.
What you really need is a new writing set-up. One that’s geared towards being completely distraction-free. Here’s how you do it.
Get a Minimal Text Editor
When it comes to editors advertising themselves as “minimalist” or distraction-free, you’ve got a lot to choose from. However, I will recommend one app specifically: Write!
It’s as minimalist as it gets. In fullscreen mode, Write! removes everything from view, including all navigation and design elements, leaving you one-on-one with your work. Moreover, the app has a Focus Mode feature that dims all paragraphs except for the one the cursor is on right now. This enables me to just barrel through whatever I have to write, reach my word count goal, and come around to edit the piece later.
The feature I enjoy using most is writing sessions. Write! has a tabbed interface, which is convenient for keeping notes, drafts and research findings separate. Sessions are groups of tabs that are saved together and can be recalled at once with a single click. This means that I can work on several different projects at once, and not have to open a bunch of documents that pertain to the task at hand when I need them.
No matter how disciplined you get, the looming threat of the Facebook newsfeed persists. And no matter how much you want to stay on the productive track, and finish the job you started, it can be difficult to abstain sometimes. To make it so you have no option but to abstain, use ColdTurkey.
Install the app, open it, and go to the Block Lists tab. Here, you can input all the websites and applications that are your go-to procrastination destinations. Once you’re ready, go to the Timers tab, and turn the list on. Input the time you’d like for the block to end, and turn it on. By using some computer voodoo magic, the app blocks that group of websites and applications, and the action can’t be reversed until the timer has run out.
Be careful what you’re blocking, though! You really won’t be able to access any of those sites unless you know your way around a computer.
It’s got other great features like schedules and freezing you out of using the computer at scheduled times, but that only comes with the Pro version.
Look, no one’s realistically expected to ignore their email or network on social media. Ditto to bathroom breaks and coffee runs. And working for five hours straight isn’t doing any favors for your essay’s coherence, either. Breaks are just plain necessary, period. But once you give yourself the right to a break, how do you stop it from devolving into a spiral of “just five more minutes”? You schedule that break with Time Out.
Download the app, schedule the desired start time and duration of your break, and it will lock you out of whatever you’re doing when that time comes. And there’s also a convenient little timer that lets you know how close you are to the next break, which is helpful, since you can be sure you’re not mid-thought
The app even knows when you’ve taken a natural break — when you need to go answer the phone, for instance, you’re not likely to take a second to let your computer know, “hey, I’m going on a break!” like it’s a micromanaging boss.
Getting into a mode of distraction-free productivity takes more than an app. Even with all three apps featured in this post, and another twenty, you’ll still be able to find avenues to procrastinate. I know that, if push comes to shove, I’ll press ‘random’ on Wikipedia and start reading the first article that pops up.
No, it takes more than apps. Distraction-free writing takes some discipline, and that doesn’t come by easily. Still, apps help.
Ernest Mendozza is a very pleasant fellow and he submitted this guest post back in August. We’ve been trying to reach him ever since to let him know we were going to run his article, but he hasn’t responded. Unfortunately, we don’t know anything else about him, other than he has a lovely sense of humor.